When I was a child, my grandma had a large whiskey barrel sitting at the corner of her house under the gutter. She called it the rainbarrel and used it to water the flower beds in her front yard. The barrel isn't there any more. I've never asked her what happened to it because I've assumed it eventually rotted, since wood tends to do that over the years. Now my grandma just has several plastic 5-gallon buckets sitting along the side of her house for the same purpose. The whiskey barrel seemed so mysterious and forbidden (because it had to do with whiskey). Maybe it is just the aesthetic aspect, or maybe it's because I'm all grown up now, but the plastic buckets just don't seem nearly as exciting as that wooden barrel.
Rainbarrels of one form or another have been in use for ages. There are several reasons one may wish to use a rainbarrel:
Rainbarrels are environmentally-friendly. Storing excess rain water for use at a later time decreases the use of electricity and conserves fresh, drinkable water for other uses.
Rainbarrels save money. Pumping water from a faucet or sprinkler system costs money â€“ either on the electric bill in the case of a well or on the water bill for those who live in cities.
Rainbarrels are better for plants. Cold water is very shocking to plants that are accustomed to sitting in the hot sun all day. Sun-warmed rainwater is ideal for optimal plant growth.
Rainbarrels are convenient. Catching rainwater is a barrel makes it possible to easily provide water for gardens and beds that are not within reach of the hose or sprinkler system.
Many different types of containers can be used as a rainbarrel. At one time I was using one of those large round tubs they sell at Walmart for about $5 â€“ the type they show full of canned pop on ice in the ads. I had the tub sitting next to my raised 4' X 4' vegetable beds. I used a ladle to gently pour water around each plant. I would suggest purchasing some type of screen to cover the tub if going that route, since warm rainwater is also a convenient breeding location for mosquitos.
I now use a rainbarrel made from a recycled plastic bulk food container. This type of rainbarrel can be purchased from many different vendors online. It has a nifty spigot near the bottom where a hose can be attached for easy watering. My rainbarrel came with a plastic diverter that allows it to be attached directly to a gutter. I don't have gutters on my house though. I simply placed the rainbarrel under an eave on my roof which works just as well.
With all the many advantages of using a rainbarrel in summer months, I think my favorite function is the use I have discovered for it during the off-season. Because I live in an area that experiences cold, snowy winters, the rainbarrel cannot be left full of water during the coldest months. The freezing and thawing would surely crack the plastic. At the end of the growing season, the rainbarrel can be rinsed and brought into my basement where I will use it to store water needed for winter power outages. Most people in my area fill large tubs with water the night before forecasted ice storms and blizzards in order to have enough water on hand to flush toilets and so on. Rather than filling tubs full of water that I will possibly be pouring right back down the drain when the storm passes without a power outage, I will have ample water stored in my rainbarrel ready for use.
This will not only give me enough stored water to flush the toilets, but the water could also be used for my chickens and other pets if necessary. If the winter passes with no interruption in electric services, I can easily use the hose attached to the bottom spigot to empty the barrel into another tub sitting in the bed of my truck. The water can be returned to the rainbarrel once the barrel has been moved back to its outdoor location. With my rainbarrel, I will never be without ample water in summer or winter.
Rainbarrels offer a fun and nifty solution to water conservation and the storage of water for emergency situations.